Being a public domain staple for years, with frequent airings on late night TV and a boatload of different DVD releases, 1959’s THE BAT is considered an inferior remake of 1930's THE BAT WHISPERS. The best previous DVD releases of the film were through Roan Group (as part of a double feature with the previous year’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL), and an even better-looking one from Anchor Bay, which was incorrectly presented full frame. Film Chest Media Group more recently released a DVD of THE BAT boasting a new HD transfer of the Vincent Price vehicle, and now that same transfer is utilized for this Blu-ray, and it’s certainly the best looking of the bunch.
Amid newspaper headlines of a notorious killer known as “The Bat” being back on the loose (and releasing rabid bats in the neighborhood), famed mystery and horror writer Cornelia van Gorder (future “Bewitched” star Agnes Moorehead, DEAR DEAD DELILAH) and her nervous secretary Lizzie Allen (Lenita Lane, THE MAD MAGICIAN) rent a mansion known as The Oaks for the summer. In the meantime, the man she has rented the home from, John Fleming (Harvey Stephens, SERGEANT YORK) has embezzled the bank he founded out of a million dollars, letting his friend and physician, Dr. Malcom Wells (Vincent Price, CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER) in on his secret, hoping he can scheme with him to elude the authorities. After Fleming pulls out a gun on the doctor in a cabin in the woods, Wells shoots first (using a rifle hanging on the wall) and kills him with the knowledge of where the loot is hidden. Back at The Oaks, a stormy night is like something out of one of Cornelia’s novels with the presence of "The Bat", a killer dressed totally in black and sporting a leather glove with metal claws, creeping about the grounds. Later, with a house full of female guests and servants, “The Bat” is still at large and searching for something (the stolen money perhaps?) and has just killed Fleming’s nephew (John Bryant, TWIST AROUND THE CLOCK), after he snuck in (also with the money in mind) without anyone knowing.
Released theatrically by Allied Artists, THE BAT’s original literary source stems from Mary Robert Rinehart’s 1908 novel The Circular Staircase, which was later turned into a hit Broadway show, “The Bat”, with two film versions in 1926 and 1930. Director and writer Wilbur Crane had already done the screenplays for Price’s two 3D films (HOUSE OF WAX and THE MAD MAGICIAN) and his intention here was to modernize the story, but the film falls rather flat compared to the cheap thrills to be found in the ballyhoo-filled William Castle films Price was cast in around the same time (not to mention, this was released right before Price would do the lavish HOUSE OF USHER for Roger Corman and AIP). It's basically a mystery disguised in the promotional campaign of a horror film because of its title and the presence of Price, who by the next decade, would be the king of the horror genre. The basic “gimmick” here was a rather unthreatening warning in the newspaper and poster ads (“Anyone who reveals who I am will have to answer to… The Bat”).
Despite its plodding and sometimes stiff direction, viewed late at night (especially a stormy one) the film might hit the spot with its shadowy “old dark house” atmosphere, and typically there are lots of trap doors, secret passages, dark corridors and the figure of The Bat can be a scary one. Top-billed Price is always good, though he’s really in more of a supporting role as a deceptive doctor who makes house calls and experiments on tiny bats (essentially, his character is thrown in as a red herring). Moorehead is quite amusing and does her best with the character, as is Lane as her sidekick who becomes more brave as the film progresses (unusual for the 1950s, the female characters are seen as strong-willed and not just helpless victims, while the male police are portrayed as rather incompetent). Former “Our Gang” (known to most of us through TV as “The Little Rascals”) star Darla Hood is here without much screen time, and as this is her last feature (of which she didn’t appear in many of), she’s pretty much wasted in the role. Fans of vintage horror will be amused to see an aged and bald Gavin Gordon (who appeared in MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM as well as THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN's Lord Byron) as the police lieutenant who is conveniently never able to actually catch The Bat. Although Louis Forbes did the film’s score, swing musician Alvino Rey composed the jazzy opening theme (heard before an opening shot of an unconvincing model of the mansion, the tune really commences things in a campy way).
THE BAT is presented here in 1080p HD in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and although the print source shows occasional light lines, the image is quite clean with nice detail. The black and white film has decent black levels and whites also look correct and not overblown, with the overall picture remaining sharp and smooth throughout (with only occasional soft spots), and no obtrusive grain whatsoever. What is manufactured here is actually a BD-R, rather than a “pressed” Blu-ray, but performance-wise there are no issues to be found. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is also extremely clear, with only a few instances of pops. There are no extras on the disc, but optional English SDH subtitles are included. It’s too bad the original trailer wasn’t included; it’s similar to something done for a William Castle production, staging Vincent Price in a living room chair, warning the audience of the titular villain. (George R. Reis)
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